HMRC is putting plans in place to use robotics to take up the arduous task of checking tax returns of millions of taxpayers.
The UK tax agency is looking at implementing robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) for a number of different areas, in a bid to ease the complexity of tax operations and become a more efficient working department.
On the topic of AI, the department is looking into using the technology for working on compliance and complex tax cases as per HMRC acting digital transformation director Brigid McBride. The senior HMRC official said that the department is dipping its toe in the technology, to see how AI can assist with carrying out the most complex of tax operations.
Despite only ‘dipping its toe’ in AI, the tax agency has said it has set a goal to automate 10m processes by the end of this year.
Speaking at the Public Sector IT conference held by Dods in London, McBride revealed that some robotics tools were already put into use in HMRC’s dealings with customers and that the pace of change has been improving.
“We use a lot of new channels like social media, to help deal with simple queries. We also have a virtual assistant – called Rita – a very simple robotics technology,” McBride said. “The pace of change is not slowing, the demands of our customers are growing, and our customers are moving towards self-employment. The real challenge is building an organisation that can absorb that change and adapt to it.”
The tax authority is also looking into using AI for external uses such as its front-end customer service offerings, with many of the initiative ideas being driven by workers at HMRC themselves as apposed to relying on contractors.
Already tapping into new technology, such as social media, the department as already invested in the use of a virtual assistant. Therefore, adopting more robotics and AI in the future was inevitable.
Despite the concerns around AI and robotics replacing jobs within working environments such as HMRC, which relies heavily on administrative talent, the department is optimistic that the fast-paced digital world will be beneficial to all.
“We have been absolutely crushed by the enthusiasm. We did a bottom-up approach instead of a big programme. We put in the capability then asked staff to identify processes that they felt could automate. We ended up with hundreds of small projects that were all things that people really cared about,” McBride said. “The pace of change is not slowing, the demands of our customers are growing, and our customers are moving towards self-employment. The real challenge is building an organisation that can absorb that change and adapt to it.”